My mom introduced me to the music of Les Miserables when I was growing up. Mandy Patinkin sang I Dreamed a Dream. And I needed more. PBS shows a concert special. I wanted to watch it. I would walk around singing Stars for days. I would sing Who Am I? as I walked to school. So, when I heard there was going to be a movie, I was excited.
I have seen the stage production twice: once on Broadway and once in Madison. It is a beautiful story of justice and basically death. Politically. I hated Javert, but musically, he was my favorite. His story is one of pride and belief in the system. But the system is broken. A man who is tracks his entire life is not whom he believes him to be. But seeing the man on stage alone singing some of the most beautiful songs I ever heard made the musical.
On a movie screen, it is a different production. It is not the stage production and you can’t go into it thinking you are going to see a stage production. Movie musicals are different. A camera is different than a stage. It isn’t worse. It is different. Rob Marshall understood that when he made Chicago. He used the tricks of moviemaking to make the movie something special. Tom Hooper filmed Les Miserables like someone who sat only in the balcony for a stage production. He was always on top of the actors. You were there with them face-to-face, which is not what you get as a viewer of the stage production. It is always a separation.
Overall, this doesn’t help the story. I cried more than usual, but that is because everyone looked so much more sad than I am used to from the stage. But for the love story of Marius and Cossette, I got it with the movie. I understood their story so much more. Marius was annoying on the record or in the theater. But I understood why Cossette fell in love with him. I appreciated that aspect of the film. Eddie Redmayne added something to the character that I never saw before.
I read a lot of bad reviews of the movie and I will say that it is not as powerful as it is on stage. It is not shot in a way that is very welcoming. It loses a lot of its heart and its soul due to its styling. Master of the House is creepy and not very funny. It reminded me of how Tim Burton filmed the funnier parts of Sweeney Todd – something was missing. Russell Crowe is not a strong baritone and I didn’t connect to Javert as I would have loved to. I didn’t understand the premises behind his solos. It is a little sad that I didn’t see that on film.
But I have seen it. If I watch the Les Miserable concert (the one before the Nick Jonas one), I get that despair and fear and anger out of that Javert. Each staging will change how you feel about the story.
It wasn’t as good as Lincoln. I loved Silver Linings Playbook. But it was a good movie experience. And I introduced John to something that is really important to me. Worth the price of admission.
Updated: watch this fun video on Christine Pedi imagining what Les Mis would be like with different people playing roles:
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